An Enchanting Visit To Poilâne Bakery in Paris
Poilâne Bakery – Saint Germain-des-Prés, Paris
Last January, I wrote a story about our adventures in procuring the wonderful French sourdough bread made by Poilâne and sold in New York at the beautiful specialty foods market Agata and Valentina.
I published the story and shared it on Poilâne’s Facebook page. I soon received this response:
Dear Madam. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Thank you too for your very kind words about our bread. We would like however to apologize for the trouble you’ve got finding our bread. Your message has been passed on to the lady in charge of Exports. She will enquire and get back to you ASAP. Thanks a lot for your patience and kindness. We hope you have soon the opportunity to come and visit us in Paris. With our very best regards. Poilâne Bakery
I felt kind of bad because I hadn’t meant to complain about the process. As a New Yorker, I am perfectly willing to work a little bit for something extraordinary. (I have not waited in line for a cronut™ yet, but it is not out of the realm of possibilities.) As luck would have it, I would be stopping in Paris briefly a few months later, on my way to Hungary for some amazing paprikash and some dental tourism (both fantastic in case you’re wondering). I set up a time to meet with Geneviève Brière, Poilâne’s Head of Communications.
Poilâne, 8 rue du Cherche-Midi in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
James and I traveled to the bakery at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We were welcomed by a lovely lady behind a central desk and seated in a cozy reception room lined floor to ceiling with paintings of Poilâne’s miche, the traditional French sourdough. Hanging from the ceiling was a chandelier made of bread.
We spent a lovely hour with Geneviève, learning about the bakery and munching on fresh punitions, teensy butter cookies with a sweet story. We would learn that the paintings were made by starving artists. They would come in asking for a hand-out, and Messr. Poilâne would have them paint his bread in exchange for a loaf or two. We did not recognize any of the artists, but it is nice to imagine this lifesaving arrangement. The paintings of the loaves are beautiful.
Poilâne Bread Chandelier
The bread chandelier was inspired by a project Lionel Poilâne did with Salvador Dalí sometime in the early 1970’s. Dalí, not surprisingly, asked him make an entire bedroom set out of bread. And so it came to be. The photos of the bread bedroom are proprietary, but I can tell you that it did not last forever. Mice became a bit of an issue. But they continue the tradition with the chandelier, which they replace every four years or so. (They probably have made a fresh one since we were there.)
We toured the stone-walled bakery below the shop, where apple tarts and other breads were baking in the ancient oven. Most of the production is done in a large baking facility outside of Paris and also in their locations in London. Lionel opened a shop in London in 2000, and he personally carried the sourdough starter from Paris to the new bakery in London, where it lives on in their bread today. They now have two shops there, one in Belgravia and another in Chelsea. They ship their products by air to hungry clients around the world, from Rio to Riyadh and all points in between.
Of course, we were enchanted. We purchased some miche and an incredibly flaky apple turnover. James was enthralled with the bread guillotine in a side drawer of that central desk. The miche loaves are huge and heavy, and the bakery is happy to sell you half or a quarter loaf. The week we were there, they had added granola to the shelves of products, a modern trend that works wonderfully with the tradition of the family business.
Poilâne Cafe Turkey Caper Sandwich
Afterwards, we went right next door to the Poilâne Cafe for lunch. It was wonderful, as expected. I had a turkey sandwich on miche with capers. James had one with artichokes, tomatoes and tapenade (I think), that he ate before I could take its portrait. We both had a cup of tea that came with a butter cookie in the shape of a teaspoon. Perfect.
I am also happy to report that Poilâne and Agata & Valentina have worked out a regular miche delivery schedule in the city. Several loaves arrive via air shipment every Thursday. They are monitoring the demand so that they can make sure they have enough and that none goes to waste. The bread is so hearty that it remains fresh for several days and even longer when you toast it. So far, we have been able to get our hands on it whenever we want. And that is wonderful.
~Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City
Tiny Poilâne Puntions Butter Cookies and Tea
Miche Bread Paintings at Poilâne
Making My Way Down to the Poilâne Oven
Poilâne Apple Turnovers Hot Out of the Oven
Poilâne Recently Introduced Granola to Their Product Line
Poilâne Miche Guillotine
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